King Saul’s Contradiction (1 Samuel 9:1; 14:51 and 1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39)

Category: Bible/Christian Worldview 710 0

Almost everywhere they look in Scripture skeptics believe they have found a contradiction. In this article I want to look at an alleged contradiction concerning Saul, the first God appointed king of Ancient Israel. The story of Saul is found in the book of 1 Samuel, and it was during his reign that the future king David would kill Goliath. The contradiction is supposedly that the Bible cannot get the name of Saul’s grandfather correct. Take a look at the following passages (the names supposedly contradict one another are in italics and underlined):

  • 1 Samuel 9:1 says, “There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin.” (Kish was the father of Saul.)
  • 1 Samuel 14:51 reports, “The name of the commander of Saul’s army was Abner son of Ner, and Ner was Saul’s uncle. Saul’s father Kish and Abner’s father Ner were sons of Abiel.”

So far both verses tell us that Saul’s grandfather was named Abiel. Now take a look at what 1 Chronicles teaches:

  • 1 Chronicles 8:33 says, “Ner was the father of Kish, Kish the father of Saul…”
  • 1 Chronicles 9:39 repeats the same thing.

1 Samuel says that Saul’s grandfather was named Abel, while 1 Chronicles says that it was Ner. Is this is a genuine contradiction, or is there a logical solution? Let’s take a look.

The first possibility to consider is that the genealogies may have skipped generations. “In this case, Abiel [in 1 Samuel] could have been Saul’s grandfather and Ner [in 1 Chronicles] could have been several generations earlier or vice versa. While this is plausible, it seems unlikely, given that 1 Samuel 9:1 provides us with the names of three ancestors prior to Abiel and Ner is not one of them. Perhaps he was four generations earlier or more.”[1]

While some readers may be confused about why someone would skip a generation in their genealogy, it was something that often happened in the Ancient Middle East. However, I believe there is a second and better possibility to this alleged discrepancy. This is that Abiel and Ner were two names for the same individual. We have many examples of this in Scripture: Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Reuel/Jethro, Gideon/Jerubbaal, Solomon/Jedidiah, Simon/Peter, etc.[2]

This may seem strange to the modern reader, but we must remember that people in Biblical times did not have first, middle, and last names like we do today (although there may have been a few exceptions). It is possible that these double names may have arisen to distinguish people who had the same name. Think of giving someone a nickname like we sometimes do today (sometimes people today will even go by their middle names to help distinguish them from a parent with the same first name). 1 Samuel 14:50 notes that Saul’s uncle was named Ner, while 1 Chronicles tells us that his grandfather also had the name Ner. This would mean that grandfather Ner had a son named Ner. It would then be logical for Saul’s grandfather to go by two different names.

Whenever we come across what appears to be a discrepancy in Scripture our first inclination should be to look at all the different possibilities in explaining it. Instead, skeptics usually just throw up their hands and say, “look see, the Bible is wrong. Christianity is false.” As this article has shown there is a rational explanation for why one individual in Scripture is recorded as having two different names.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

[1] Tim Chaffey. “Generational Gaffe?” In Demolishing Supposed Bible Contradictions Vol. 2. ed. Ken Ham, Bodie Hodge, and Tim Chaffey (Green Forest: Master Books, 2012. 66-67.

[2] Ibid. 67.

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